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Business Observer Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 12 years ago

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Can there be such a thing as 'too many customers' for a small business? When it attracts more customers than it's able to help, a change in strategy is in order. It's how eCycling.com was born.
by: Alex Walsh Web Editor

Before starting his own company, Joe Serra was perplexed by an issue that most businesses would love.

Too many customers, not enough solutions.

When Serra left an 18-year career with Tech Data to work for Network Liquidators in 2005 and 2006, he says the company was only able to serve about 10% of the customers that contacted them due to the specific nature of their business model.

That model was based on the purchase and re-sale of used electronic equipment. The challenge arose from the fact that not every piece of old electronic equipment was a candidate for re-sale.

But every time a customer was turned away, it left Serra with a difficult question: “Do they call our competitor next?”

Executives at Network Liquidators began contemplating an answer to that question in late 2007. And in March 2008, eCycling.com was created as a wholly owned subsidiary of Network Liquidators, expanding the company's ability to process used electronics.

To increase that ability, eCycling.com recycles old electronic equipment than cannot easily be resold.

Following early successes, eCycling.com left the Network Liquidators organization to become a stand-alone company. Since that move was made in June of this year, the company has grown from four employees to 21.

Now, the Largo-based company's focus is on developing its own unique role in the electronic waste market space. To do that, eCycling.com is attempting to go beyond the standard option for electronic waste disposal — which is challenging enough, given the toxic nature of most electronic equipment.

Instead, Serra says, “We don't just process scrap. We extract value for our customers.” Creating the potential for a net-value gain attracts customers in any industry. At eCycling.com, clients go through a three-step process that may end up with the client receiving a check from the recycling company.

The first two steps key on eCycling.com's technical advantage over competitors: first, a thorough cleaning of received equipment, including the elimination of personally identifiable information on any device. (Serra says incoming hard drives are the absolute first item on his client-processing list.) That's followed by the environmentally responsible disposal of all unusable equipment.

These steps prevent headaches like the one Northrup Grumman encountered -- sensitive data related to the company contracts with the federal government was obtained by Canadian journalism students who had purchased used electronic equipment from vendors in Ghana.

The third step focuses on cost recovery, maximizing the monetary value of the client's old equipment. It keys on a meticulous approach to breaking equipment down. If an item can be re-used, it's sold; if not, it's broken down into parts, and what's left is converted into raw materials, like plastic and steel.

While eCycling.com faces competition in each of those three phases separately, Serra says his company has an advantage over those competitors by offering all three services under one roof.

The company's next step will focus on further increasing its ability to process equipment that is difficult to recycle. Serra cites printer toner cartridges as a prime example. Solving that problem, he says, would have a tremendous impact on his company's business.

Being able to more effectively process a greater number of electronic goods will also assist the company's latest expansion effort, as eCycling.com attempts to enter the consumer market for recycled equipment, rather than working exclusively with corporate clients.

That effort is being driven by a relationship with FedEx/Kinko's, as eCycling.com is adding drop-off boxes to each of the shipping expert's franchise locations across the country.

The market for “green” technology doesn't appear to be slowing down. Furthermore, Serra expects upcoming changes in federal legislation to further propel the need for responsible recycling.

And while several scrapping options might be out there, Serra says, “Very few do it right.”

As the need increases, Serra will continue to market his company as the right one for the job.

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